Confessions of a Philosophy Student

I only took one philosophy class as an undergrad.  I’m sorry to say it wasn’t a positive experience.  Terribly shy, I worked up my courage to tackle a question aloud in class one day.  My professor asked what the basis for my answer was and I responded, “the laws of physics.”  Apparently that wasn’t a valid basis for an argument.  I didn’t speak again in his class that semester.  I wrote letters to my grandmother weekly during the class. But I read, wrote my papers, and got an A. 

Fifteen or so years later, I received the syllabus for Ethics and Education, a course that’s part of the Klingenstein program at Columbia.  I saw Plato and Seneca.  My heart sank.  I was not excited about revisiting philosophy and potentially repeating my undergrad experience.  My attitude was bad and I was frustrated because I didn’t understand the purpose of these readings in relation to my educational and career goals. 

I faithfully read Plato.  Alcibiades. Meno. Crito. the Apology.  At one point I said I felt like someone had replaced my actual brain with one made of yarn.  I think it was after reading Meno and Crito back to back prior to a my evening law class.  Even though I’m no longer really shy, I like my undergrad self.  I was waiting to say something stupid.  I was surrounded by people with history and classics backgrounds who really seemed to get what we were reading.  I didn’t.  I tried, but I didn’t.  I read. I highlighted.  I reread.  I rewrote Socrates’ arguments in my own words.  It got better.  Apology made sense.   I was able to use Sophocles’ Antigone as an allegory for school leadership in a paper.  

Six weeks into school, it finally clicked.  We’d read a long and (for me) challenging book entitled The Present Alone is Our Happiness.  Each class starts with a question and as I looked through my notes, struggling for a question to answer, I finally found it.  Does being a teacher make me a philosopher?  Yikes!

I wasn’t comfortable with being a philosopher, but all the evidence I could find made me realize that teacher’s must be.  I have specific philosophies about what is right in teaching, what teaching is good, and why teaching should be real-world and hands-on whenever possible.   I struggle each day with questions of whether I am doing my best for each child.  I have conversations about ideas with students. I want to live up to my teaching ideals.  Sometimes I show my students that I don’t know how to do everything, but I try to think through it and figure it out.  That’s really what being a philosopher is, I think.  

So, I’ve been able now to read Montaigne’s Essay on the Education of Children and Dewy’s Moral Principles in Education with a good attitude, realizing that I am connecting each thing I read to my learning goals and that it is up to me to do so.  I’m less worried about saying something stupid and even if I do, that’s okay.  I’m just learning.  

So, what do you think my question?  Does being a teacher make you a philosopher?  




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